Often the charge of "you're making that up" is leveled at the Church, but come on, everybody has parents, even if we do not know their names (something you will be highly cognizant of if you have ever done genealogy). Mary is definitely the mother of Jesus - Scripture leaves not doubt of that. Two genealogies leave no doubt of Joseph's fathers as well, sort of. But of Mary's ancestry we know very little, except the very early tradition of her parent's names.
Even if we do not know their names, do the man and the woman who raised Mary not deserve our honor? So many parents for millennia have labored in anonymity to mold good and loving children - we can often forget their efforts in our judgment of their children. We value celebrity and notoriety but not the parents who formed that person.
We know that Mary was betrothed when found with child, but how did these parents feel? Did they condemn her? Denounce her? Shame her? Abandon her? I am sure that Joseph, being a righteous man and not wanting to expose her, would not have considered returning her to anything but a loving family.
So we honor Mary's parents, we give them names so that we can identify them and call on them to help us raise children who's response to God's will and call is a resounding: "Yes!"
Joachim and Ann, how blessed a couple! All creation is indebted to you. For at your hands the Creator was offered a gift excelling all other gifts: a chaste mother, who alone was worthy of him. And so rejoice, Ann, that you were sterile and have not borne children; break forth into shouts, you who have not given birth. Rejoice, Joachim, because from your daughter a child is born for us, a son is given us, whose name is Messenger of great counsel and universal salvation, mighty God. For this child is God. Joachim and Ann, how blessed and spotless a couple! You will be known by the fruit you have born, as the Lord says: By their fruits you will know them. The conduct of your life pleased God and was worthy of your daughter. For by the chaste and holy life you led together, you have fashioned a jewel of virginity: she who remained a virgin before, during and after giving birth. She alone for all time would maintain her virginity in mind and soul as well as in body. Joachim and Ann, how chaste a couple! While safeguarding the chastity prescribed by the law of nature, you achieved with God’s help something which transcends nature in giving the world the Virgin Mother of God as your daughter. While leading a devout and holy life in your human nature, you gave birth to a daughter nobler than the angels, whose queen she now is. Girl of utter beauty and delight, daughter of Adam and mother of God, blessed the loins and blessed the womb from which you come! Blessed the arms that carried you, and blessed your parents’ lips, which you were allowed to cover with chaste kisses, ever maintaining your virginity. Rejoice in God, all the earth. Sing, exult and sing hymns. Raise your voice, raise it and not be afraid.
-- From a sermon by St. John Damascene
I do not know about you, but I really believe the saying that I don't have to go looking for trouble it just finds me. I think that is true also for Christians, if we are living right.
The Seven Sleepers (Constantinus, Dionysius, Joannes, Malchus, Martinianus, Maximianus and Serapion by some traditions) took refuge in at cave to avoid the persecution of Decius but it found them anyway and they were tried, probably tortured, and executed, being buried (possibly alive) in the very cave in which they took refuge. They are known as "the sleepers" because of a story that they emerged from the cave 300 years later and walked around Ephesus, though that was probably a story connected with the finding and transferal of their bones. As an interesting note, the site is revered by Muslims as well as Christians.
We can try to hide away to try to make our own perfect Christian community, but that is not the way that it works. Even in cloistered monasteries they are not shut away from the world but immerse themselves deeply in the needs of the world. Even in death the Seven proclaim their Faith; their hiding exposed their Faith and their adherence to it after being discovered showed that fear did not necessarily drive them, but if it did at first, it was not what truly drove them them in the end but a love of Christ and his Church.
That cave, symbolic of fear, becomes the place of holy glory. We cannot hide from God or from the world; we must live Christ to the fullest. If we do then we too will “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead."
So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient. So do not be associated with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”
-- Ephesians 5
We do not often think about the Church as it is manifested in countries different than our own, which is of course strange if we call ourselves the "Catholic Church". We often miss the place of India in the Early Church. Tradition has it that Thomas the Apostle went there and so it has a very ancient tradition of being church.
Alphonsa is of note to us for her suffering for most of her life, and for suffering in silence.
The portion of an indigenous population of a country that dedicates itself to Christ, often in the face of fierce opposition should remind us of how we are all brothers and sisters. Alphonsa's silent suffering should remind us to put ourselves into Christ's suffering so that we can quietly help heal the suffering of the world.
Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. ...Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you. Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.
-- 1 Peter 4:12-13, 5:7-10
I am always surprised about the tension and high feelings that come up about Martha and Mary, as if one of the things we have to do is compare ourselves to one or the other (or others at all for that matter) and choose one over the other. Jesus certainly points out something about each of them but it is not a comparison. Jesus calls Martha to task over her worry while Mary does not, not her choice of actions in serving him. His mention of Mary is to call Martha to think about what she does and thinks, not to compare her to Mary as Mary being better. One other certainty is that later Mary wails over Lazarus' death while Martha proclaims her belief in a life beyond death. Jesus calls us to be true to him no matter who we are.
Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
"Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me."
The Lord said to her in reply,
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her."
-- Luke 10:38-42
There is contention about the validity and place of the Fathers in the practice of our Faith. It is the argument of some that it is their introduction of philosophical language which corrupts the true church. We who honor the Fathers see their efforts as helping to guide and remove corruption from the Church. Their ability to articulate understandings about the Faith answers doubt and rights inaccurate thinking. It is easy to dismiss them as non-biblical but to ignore the Fathers is to fall into many of the traps that they speak against.
Peter's ability to voice complex ideas succinctly and brilliantly led many to deeper understanding and practice of the Faith. In fact it would be easy to place a complete copy of any of his homilies here because they are so short and to the point. But for even more brevity I will only sample two with similar themes.
Christ’s birth was not necessity, but an expression of omnipotence, a sacrament of piety for the redemption of men. He who made humans without generation from pure clay made man again and was born from a pure body. The hand that assumed clay to make our flesh deigned to assume a body for your salvation. That the Creator is in his creature and God is in the flesh brings dignity to man without dishonor to him who made him.
Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God?
Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him?
Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made?
-- From a Homily on the Nativity of Christ
The man made from the earth is the pattern of those who belong to the earth; the man from heaven is the pattern of those who belong to heaven. How is it that these last, though they do not belong to heaven by birth, will yet belong to heaven, men who do not remain what they were by birth but persevere in being what they have become by rebirth? The reason is, brethren, that the heavenly Spirit, by the mysterious infusion of his light, gives fertility to the womb of the virginal font. The Spirit brings forth as men belonging to heaven those whose earthly ancestry brought them forth as men belonging to the earth, and in a condition of wretchedness; he gives them the likeness of their Creator. Now that we are reborn, refashioned in the image of our Creator, we must fulfill what the Apostle commands: So, as we have worn the likeness of the man of earth, let us also wear the likeness of the man of heaven.
-- From Sermon 117
This is not the place to argue the merits of any order, especially against the merits of another but to take comfort in the fact that the people who started those orders are saints. Not just saints for the few but for the whole Church.
Orders have people who have devoted their lives to serving God in a very specific way, though the actions that result from that service are myriad.
I have benefited from the rigorous and disciplined nature of the Jesuits, as have many; but I have also benefited from the prayerful attitude of Benedictines, the kindness of Franciscans, the eloquence of Dominicans, the passion of the Passionists, the patience of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the hospitality of the Christian Brothers...well you get the idea.
God calls us all to very specific vocations; the joy, beauty, and power of that vocation lies in the opportunities that God gives us to live them out.
We honor Ignatius and all of the thousands of other founders and the sacrifices they made in order to give us the diverse Church that worships the one God.
In the meantime the divine mercy was at work substituting for these thoughts others suggested by his recent readings. While perusing the life of Our Lord and the saints, he began to reflect, saying to himself: "What if I should do what St. Francis did?" "What if I should act like St. Dominic?" He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things. He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: "St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it." "St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it." These heroic resolutions remained for a time, and then other vain and worldly thoughts followed. This succession of thoughts occupied him for a long while, those about God alternating with those about the world. But in these thoughts there was this difference. When he thought of worldly things it gave him great pleasure, but afterward he found himself dry and sad; but when he thought of journeying to Jerusalem, and of living only on herbs, and practicing austerities, he found pleasure not only while thinking of them, but also when he had ceased.
This difference he did not notice or value, until one day the eyes of his soul were opened and he began to inquire the reason of the difference. He learned by experience that one train of thought left him sad, the other joyful. This was his first reasoning on spiritual matters. Afterward, when he began the Spiritual Exercises, he was enlightened, and understood what he afterward taught his children about the discernment of spirits. When gradually he recognized the different spirits by which he was moved, one, the spirit of God, the other, the devil, and when he had gained no little spiritual light from the reading of pious books, he began to think more seriously of his past life, and how much penance he should do to expiate his past sins.
Amid these thoughts the holy wish to imitate saintly men came to his mind; his resolve was not more definite than to promise with the help of divine grace that what they had done he also would do. After his recovery his one wish was to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He fasted frequently and scourged himself to satisfy the desire of penance that ruled in a soul filled with the spirit of God.
The vain thoughts were gradually lessened by means of these desires — desires that were not a little strengthened by the following vision. While watching one night he plainly saw the image of the Blessed Mother of God with the Infant Jesus, at the sight of which, for a considerable time, he received abundant consolation, and felt such contrition for his past life that he thought of nothing else. From that time until August, 1555, when this was written, he never felt the least motion of concupiscence. This privilege we may suppose from this fact to have been a divine gift, although we dare not state it, nor say anything except confirm what has been already said. His brother and all in the house recognized from what appeared externally how great a change had taken place in his soul.
-- Autobiography, I, 26-18